In the past 12 years, I’ve made many contributions to Open Source. I served as the art director for the Bash and Zsh logos and co-founded a Bootstrap project’s free CDN with 7 million websites using the service during my tenure. Additionally, I’ve organized diverse events such as SustainOSS across three countries and currently co-host the podcast “Sustain.”
Notice a pattern? None of these contributions required me to open an integrated development environment (IDE.)
Why do I have to call this out? Well, it’s because someone I respect (and still do) made a suggestion:
“If you find yourself about to use the phrase “non-code contributors” you should stop and use entirely different language.”
That’s a horrible idea and here’s why. In 2016, I gave a talk called “What Comes After Git Push” at the O’Reilly Open Source Convention (OSCON.) It was a dream come true. One that almost didn’t happen because I thought people wouldn’t find my non-code contributions interesting. I started to second-guess myself. My mentor assured me that what I was doing for the Open Source community was valuable and I should be encouraging others to do the same. He was right.
The talk went well. Someone approached me and said, “Hey, you shouldn’t use Git in your title if it’s a non-technical talk.” Maybe he was right. I didn’t care much then; I had just finished a talk at OSCON and people clapped. Yay me.
But that comment would stick with me, rent-free, in my head off and on for years. It wasn’t until 2021 that I realized that people should be proud to be called (or call themselves) non-code contributors. Even developers make non-code contributions. There’s no shame in that. I even created a newsletter (RIP Revue), “The Non-Code Contributor.” I’m all in, so to speak.
Back to the matter, policing this language further stigmatizes those who can’t code from becoming Open Source contributors! Hello? We need more non-code contributors! Our digital infrastructure is like the xkcd comic #2347. You know the one I’m talking about. We need all hands on deck to sustain the Open Source supply chain. Many impactful contributions will be the ones creating policy to help fund public goods. Maintainers (code-contributors) struggle with tiny donations some people and companies throw in their tip jar. They need sustainers (non-code contributors) to advocate for them, go to the heads of the company (or department) they work for and say something like, “Hey, we use this Open Source maintainers project as a key part of our infrastructure and we should start sponsoring their project.”
So, what if I call myself or anyone else a non-code contributor? I love making non-code contributions. They have been more impactful than any line of code I wrote. It took me a while to accept that fact, so why shame others who want to identify as one? Non-code and code contributors, at the end of the day, are all contributors. I think Gus Portokalos (a character from “My Big Fat Greek Wedding”) says it best:
“You know, the root of the word Miller is a Greek word. Miller comes from the Greek word, ‘milo,’ which is mean ‘apple,’ so there you go. As many of you know, our name, Portokalos, is come from the Greek word ‘portokali,’ which mean ‘orange.’ So, okay? Here tonight, we have apple and orange. We all different, but in the end, we all fruit.”
That’s right, we’re all fruit and fruit is good! Let’s make the phrase ‘non-code contributors’ something to be proud of, not something contributors people feel they have to play down because these contributions are “less” important than code.
If you’re interested in becoming a non-code Open Source contributor, here are a few things you can do:
- Document a project
- Art direction
- Triage issues
- Build a community around a project
- Advocate for Open Source funding
- Organize events and meetups
- Write blog posts and articles about Open Source
- Translate Open Source documentation
- Test Open Source software
- Provide support to Open Source users
There are many ways to contribute to Open Source, even if you don’t code. I encourage you to find a way to get involved and make a difference.
If you’re interested in catching my next non-code contribution, it’s a talk on Open Source artificial intelligence as part of the OSI Deep Dive Series titled “Covering your bases with IP Indemnity.”